Volunteer Profile: Wanda Marshall, Fielder Museum
When it comes to volunteer work, Wanda Marshall finds it easy to get caught up in the past.
The Arlington grandmother has been an active board member and hands-on volunteer for the Fielder Museum and the Arlington Historical Society for the better part of two decades, doing everything from serving as the group’s treasurer to working as a researcher and manager for the museum’s special exhibits.
“We’ve done an African-American history exhibit, quilt shows, 100-year celebrations for the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, and an exhibit about Arlington High School,” said Marshall, who’s lived in Arlington since infancy and is an Arlington High graduate herself. “There’s definitely been a lot going on.”
But by far her favorite project has been the 2007 “Faces of World War II” exhibit that celebrated the memorabilia and experiences of the young men and women from Arlington who served the war effort. That exhibit included Neel Kirby, an Arlington High and UT-Arlington graduate as well as an Army airman awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.
The project continues even today with a special “Gold Star Boys” exhibit, currently displayed at the Arlington Public Library, honoring Arlington servicemen killed in the war. Additionally, museum volunteers are collaborating with the UT-Arlington film department to develop a short documentary about Arlington residents’ wartime service.
“Geraldine Mills [the museum’s director] and I realized we hit this thing at the right time,” recalled Marshall. “These men were ready to drag out their uniforms and medals and tell us their stories.”
Marshall said her work on the exhibit involved scouring old newspaper clippings and high school annuals, as well as her own memories—“I remembered seeing a list of the boys who died in one of the annuals back when I was in school”—and visiting countless hours with local veterans.
“The boys would come in and sit and talk about what happened to them,” she said. “They were a great bunch of guys. One man had sand from all the places he’d gone, including Iwo Jima. Another, a Marine, brought us his ‘sea bag’ and told us that we could use it but not to wash it.
“It was also amazing to see what the papers would print about some of the boys,” she said. “Sometimes they would run an entire letter home from a serviceman. People sometimes had to talk in code [to get around the military censors]. They might say ‘have you seen Aunt Mary lately?’ and their family members would know that meant they were in a certain place, or they’d use the middle initials of words to spell out a location.”
Marshall said she’s become increasingly engrossed as the project progressed. “Digging for information became an obsession,” she laughed. “Don’t know how long I can keep up the volunteer work for the museum, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it while it’s lasted.”